Imagine driving through the beautiful Somerset countryside in the late evening sunshine, twisting round the narrow lanes. You feel miles from anywhere… especially anywhere that could possibly be a restaurant. Surely you’ve taken a wrong turn?
Eventually you stumble on a working dairy farm, nestled on the edge of the peaceful Quantock Hills and sure enough, you spot a little sign that says ‘Clavelshay Barn this way’… so you drive on, curiously trundling through the heart of the farmyard, wondering what’s in store. And, if you’re anything like me, the emotion and excitement builds!
Yep. You’ve guessed it. Clavelshay Barn restaurant is waiting for you at the end of this off the beaten farmyard track. It’s a beautiful 18th century gem that almost sparkles when you reach it… and if the eleven-second ‘it’s the one for me’ househunting rule goes for restaurants too, we fell for Clavelshay in under five! There’s lots of reasons why:
One – the setting
Seeing the barn for the first time made me immediately realise we were in for something special. I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes when we visit places for the blog, I get a bit emotional if we find somewhere that gives me the tingles! You know - that feeling you get when you discover a place that genuinely makes your heart beat a little faster? At Clavelshay Barn, I got the tingles big time! :)
The restaurant sits in pretty, secluded, natural gardens. The blossom was out when we were there and on a warm Spring or Summer’s evening, I couldn’t think of a lovelier place to unwind with a pre-dinner Prosecco or local Gin and Tonic.
Two – the warm and wonderful atmosphere
As soon as you step inside the barn, there’s an intimate, informal feel to the restaurant. It’s almost as if you’ve escaped the everyday world and can breathe a big sigh of relaxed relief! We did anyway...
Funnily enough, that feeling of relaxation is exactly what owner Sue Milverton had in mind when she started the restaurant 13 years ago.
“Some people thought we were bonkers” Sue told us with a smile. “I just wanted everyone to feel completely comfortable and really enjoy the surroundings. I thought about what I like in a great place to eat. There’s no dress code and it doesn’t have to be Michelin starred to make it truly memorable”.
Sue’s absolutely right there… and she’s flipping awesome! She’s got a lovely calm way about her, a very big heart and a creative soul which she’s poured into the restaurant by the bucket load - and it shows. In every single touch.
Upstairs is just gorgeous – exposed elm ceiling beams and brickwork, oak floors, artwork from fab local artists on display, strings of twinkling lights and we LOVE the clouds on the ceiling. They could easily be quirky pieces of art in their own right, but they’re actually sound mufflers, made from sheep's wool and designed by one of Sue’s friends. They were popped there as an experiment originally and we’re really pleased they’ve stayed put!
From top to toe, the barn’s been restored beautifully and there’s a story folder downstairs near the little corner bar, so you can see just how much love, sweat and hopefully no tears, went in to the six-month renovations! :)
It’s a picture Sue took that inspired her to start the restaurant in the first place. It featured in Counryfile’s calendar the year it was taken and the confidence she got from that made Sue feel she could just go for it with the Barn! We’re so glad she did and I think we’ll give that picture a big thumbs-up each time we visit. It’s another little piece of the story that makes up the unique personality of this beautiful restaurant.
Talking of personalities, you can really see how proud the whole team is of what’s being created at Clavelshay. Everyone’s so genuinely friendly and every moment we were there, we felt just how much great, relaxed service matters - as well as top quality local produce - and that leads us nicely on to introducing a certain Chef called Olivier!
Three – Head Chef, Olivier Certain
Basically, you need to try this guy’s awesome food! Olivier’s a real character and has heaps of flair. His passion for creating simple, fresh, award winning dishes is completely contagious. After five minutes chatting with him, we couldn’t wait to taste what he’d cooked up for us!
Originally from Provence in the South of France, Olivier’s style is best described as ‘country cooking with a contemporary twist’ and the one thing he absolutely loves about the Barn, above all else, is the abundance of fresh ingredients on the doorstep that he gets to use in his dishes.
“I often pop out to pick fresh fennel and wild garlic and there’s a local forager who brings me the most amazing things,” Olivier told us. “This evening we’ve got some morel mushrooms that he picked just around the corner from here and you can’t beat the fresh taste of that kind of produce”.
He was so right. We couldn’t get enough of them when we had a try!
The working relationship between Olivier and Sue is something special too. It’s like gold dust, really.
Sue supports Olivier completely and Olivier returns Sue’s trust by creating food that’s not just packed full of gorgeous flavour - it also looks stunning on the plate. Which leads us nicely on to...
Four – Food to die for!
If you take a fantastic atmosphere, a genuinely passionate owner and mix it with a great Head Chef, it follows that you’ll get cracking things to eat and drink! The menu (a main menu, as well as a market menu on Wednesday and Thursday) is perfectly formed and designed to make the very best of the local produce available – and crikey, does it deliver!
We started off with a pre-dinner treat starring those awesome morel mushrooms, deliciously prepared with asparagus, peas and pancetta.
Then, came Starters of Pea and Asparagus Soup, Cheese Bignet (a parcel of total melt in the mouth gorgeousness!) and Parsley Oil for me...
... and Seared Scallops with Wild Garlic Oil, Black Pudding Crumb and Watercress Puree for Graeme, which he reliably tells me were the best he’s ever tasted. I don’t mind telling you, he’s tasted a fair few! ;)
Olivier told us his favourite thing to cook is fish, so tempted as we were by the Black Tiger Prawns Seared in Garlic Butter, Vitelotte Potatoes, Samphire and Seasonal Leaves, (as well as by the Homemade Gnocchi with Wild Mushroom Creamed Sauce, Rocket and Parmasen Salad and Truffle Oil) we both plumped for the Fillet of Pan Seared Lyme Bay John Dory with Razor Clams, Polenta, Red Pepper Compote, Fennel and Bouillabaisse Juices. Wow!
It was simply beautiful. You know on Masterchef when Gregg says “Aww mate” as he tries something that’s just too good to put in to words? Well, that’s this dish. Aww flipping mate! :)
Sue brought us a fantastic wine to compliment the fish too. This one:
It’s known as 'The Thinking Woman’s Pinot Grigio' and I can tell you that I’ve thought a lot about it since then... and I absolutely love it! It’s incredibly smooth and I definitely need to try it again - you know, just to be sure ;)
Pudding made us just as happy as the rest of dinner and if you love chocolate, peanut butter and banana parfait and you get the chance to try Olivier’s Chocolate Delice, don’t hesitate. It’s a rich, magical, mouthful... or ten!
Graeme went for his favourite dessert - Chocolate Brownie. Olivier's comes with White Chocolate and Orange Ice Cream and (close your ears) G said it was even better than my homemade one!!
We had a lovely bit of Pedro Ximenez Sherry to go with it too and by the end, we were both beaming from ear-to-ear.
When Sue started Clavelshay Barn, she wanted to create a restaurant that’s truly memorable and for us, what makes it that way is the complete experience... from the moment you pull up to the door at the start of the night, right through to the end of dinner nightcap. Eating at Clavelshay feels like a chilled out adventure and one we'll definitely always remember.
When all’s said and done, we’re a little bit in love with the magic of the place and it’s really easy to see why this little countryside haven has won a whole host of awards recently – including 'Best Restaurant in the South West' and 'No 1 Place to Go' at the Taste of the West Awards last year. The best thing about it for us though, is that it’s also won a big piece of our heart!
Our review in four words (we couldn’t fit it in to three): Magical atmosphere. Stunning food.
P.S. We’ll be back for one of their legendary Sunday lunches very soon – and we’ll be bringing Petal (our dog), because downstairs (and the garden) is dog friendly. OH YES!!!
Go go go! You’ll be really glad you did.
Clavelshay Barn is open Wednesday to Saturday for dinner from 7pm and for Sunday lunch from noon until 2pm. Book a table on 01278 662629. The Market menu is available on Wednesday and Thursday evenings - 2 courses for £14.95 and 3 courses for £19.95.